By Ulf Laessing and Ghaith Shennib
TRIPOLI Jan 5 Libya has restarted oil
production at the key El Sharara field after protesters ended a
two-month blockade, the state-run National Oil Corp (NOC) said
on Sunday, raising prospect of fresh badly-needed oil revenues
for the North African country.
The resumption of the southern field could lift output to
600,000 barrels a day, providing a rare success for Prime
Minister Ali Zeidan, who has been trying to end a wave of
oilfield and port blockages. Output had fallen to 250,000 bpd
from 1.4 million in July.
But highlighting the volatile situation, a different set of
protesters started blocking an oil pipeline in the west to the
Mellitah export port, co-operated by Italy's ENI.
Libya is in turmoil as the government struggles to rein in
militias that helped topple leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but
kept their guns and seize oil facilities or ministries at will
to make political and financial demands.
The government has warned public salaries are at risk if oil
strikes continue. Oil revenues are the main source for the
budget and crucial to funding essential food imports such as
Tribesmen calling for greater local powers had blocked the
El Sharara field since the end of October. NOC now hopes to
reach the field's maximum output capacity of around 340,000 bpd
within two to three days after starting with 60,000 bpd,
spokesman Mohamed al-Harari said.
The field's manager told local news website Ajwaa Leblad
production would reach 200,000 bpd by the end of Sunday.
Last week, the protesters at El Sharara agreed to suspend
their action after the defence minister visited them and said
the government would look into their demands.
They are calling for the establishment of a local council
and the granting of national identity cards for tribesmen from
the Tuareg minority.
The field, located in the remote and volatile south,
supplies crude to the western Zawiya export terminal and feeds
the 120,000-bpd Zawiya refinery.
Oil production rose to 286,164 bpd as of Saturday, the
highest level for several weeks, state news agency Lana said. Up
to 140,000 bpd are used for the Zawiya and Tobruk refineries.
But in a new sign of trouble, protesters blocked a pipeline
near Nalut carrying condensates from the 30,000 bpd Wafa field
to the western port of Mellitah, a joint-venture between ENI and
NOC, oil officials said.
Harari said production of condensates remained normal as the
field had sufficient storage capacity. "We hope the government
will solve the problem before we have to decrease production,"
STALEMATE IN EAST
There is also no sign of progress in eastern Libya despite
reported attempts by tribal elders to help end a blockade of the
Ras Lanuf, Es-Sider and Zuweitina ports, which previously
accounted for 600,000 bpd in crude exports.
The group behind the blockade, led by 2011 civil war hero
Ibrahim Jathran, is demanding autonomy for the east and a
greater share of the oil wealth.
A member of the parliamentary energy committee told Reuters
there was no sign of progress. Tripoli had set up a committee
made up of three Libyan regions to look into sharing oil
revenues as demanded by Jathran but his group had rejected the
nominee from the east, an oil industry veteran.
"These people who block ports don't have a unified position.
They change it every day," he said, asking not to be named.
He said the government had now set Jan. 10 as deadline to
lift the blockages.
Zeidan has set several such deadlines, which have passed
without any action. His nascent army, still in training, is no
match for battle-hardened militias, analysts say.